The Associated Press preseason poll will come out in a few days, on Aug. 20. There’s little question that Alabama will be ranked at No. 1, but there will also be a quiet anniversary that few people will hear, even though it speaks pretty loudly.
After finishing the 2007 season unranked, needing a bowl win over Colorado in Shreveport to finish above .500, voters expected Alabama to be better — but weren’t entirely sure. Mark Schlabach, who did ESPN’s rankings immediately after the 2007 bowls, had five SEC teams ranked — but no Alabama. Jon Wilner, a longtime AP West Coast voter known for his occasionally eclectic choices, didn’t include Alabama in his poll, although he did offer an honest assessment, saying that the 2008 Crimson Tide had “Top 15-to-20 talent,” but too many potential losses on its schedule. (This might have been the last time in recorded history that a college football media member argued that Alabama’s schedule was too tough.)
In the end, name recognition, a strong recruiting year — few knew at the time how strong it really was — and the Nick Saban name persuaded enough voters to include Alabama on their ballots to put the Crimson Tide in, barely, at No. 24. Not many voters expected UA to stay there — the opening opponent was No. 9 Clemson. But a decisive win moved Alabama up to No. 13 and the Crimson Tide has not vacated its spot since, with a 10th anniversary coming up next week.
The streak is now at 163 and counting, the fourth-longest such streak in poll history. It will take a few years for Alabama to move up to the No. 3 spot, if it can — the Steve Spurrier-led Florida teams from 1990 until 2012 were in the poll for 209 straight weeks. And the Crimson Tide would need another dominant decade to approach Nebraska’s amazing all-time record of 348 weeks from 1981 until 2002. But if Nick Saban has 10 more years of coaching in him, who is to say what’s possible and what isn’t?
One quick footnote — the Paul W. Bryant Alabama teams from 1971 through 1982 would have had a 175-week streak had Alabama not fallen out for one week in 1976 after a 21-0 loss to Georgia and slipped out of what was then a Top 20 and not a Top 25.
All streaks eventually end, of course, and while that doesn’t seem on the horizon for Alabama, the 10th anniversary might be a time to reflect on what a tremendous run it has been, especially when you consider that Alabama has finished five of those seasons at No. 1. Florida, in its Spurrier streak, won the AP title only once. Nebraska, for all its remarkable consistency, finished at No. 1 only twice, in 1994 and 1995.
Most fans, in mid-August, are looking ahead to the upcoming season and not basking in the glow of history. They certainly aren’t dwelling on the fact that all dynasties come to an end. But there can be little argument, when you combine consistency and championships, that the Alabama run has been the greatest decade in college football history. And all that’s expected of this season’s team is to keep it going — expectations and pressure that no other college team has ever felt.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.